The Missing Person

Bill Stark, his name for the last three years, gently pumped his brakes as he entered the first of the hairpin switchbacks leading down into Oak Creek Canyon from Flagstaff. It was a brilliant autumn day. The trees in the canyon had turned red, yellow, and orange. The air was crisp and clear. As he wound his 76 Buick Cutlass down through the switchbacks, he tried to put together the diverse elements of the case into some kind of logical pattern. His tongue inadvertently probed the space between his two remaining molars on the lower right side of his jaw. It felt like his jaw bone might be bruised, but at least it wasn't broken. He had missed something. That much was obvious. And what he had missed had almost got him killed in an unlit parking lot in Flagstaff. He realized that, at this point, he had two options open to him. One; he could figure out the missing piece of the puzzle and therefore stay one step ahead of whomever it was that was trying to kill him, or, two; he could retire the role of Bill Stark, private detective, as he had planned two weeks ago, before Mr. and Mrs. Stanley had walked into his office on the fifth floor of the Luhr's Building in downtown Phoenix. Since he had another forty-five minutes before he reached his destination, he decided to use the time to exercise option number one. As he came out of the switchbacks and slipped along the tree shaded road that followed the creek through the canyon, he went back in his memory to the smoggy afternoon the Stanleys had appeared in his office . . .

I'm getting too old for this, he thought as he stared out at the thick brown cloud that hovered over the city. Fifty-two is too old to play private detective. It's a young man's game. On top of that, It's become boring and routine. Still, all in all, it's been a successful role. Not as much fun as the circus clown, or as educational as the philosophy professor, but the level of immersion into the persona has definitely been satisfying. He could see his reflection in the window as he looked out over the downtown area. He hadn't changed that much, physically, in the last twenty-eight years since the accident. He had maintained the same weight with the exception of a few pounds of muscle he had put on when he worked with the circus. It was obvious, however, that he was no longer in his prime. It was odd to him that he would now have to consider his age when planning his next identity change. If I were smart, he thought, I'd go back to being a philosophy prof. I could establish tenure and set up a pension at some quiet univer-- -

"Bill." His secretary's voice came over the intercom. "Mr. and Mrs. Stanley are here to see you. Shall I send them in?"

"Yeah, Diane, I'm ready for them. Thanks."

As soon as the couple walked in the door, Stark knew why they had come - a missing child. They were an older couple, very conservative, probably belonging to a fundamentalist Christian sect - Baptist maybe. Mr. Stanley was tall and thin as a rail. The pants of his worn, out-of-date blue suit came above his shoes, exposing his white socks. Stark motioned for them to sit down. He knew that the man would remain silent the entire time that they were in the office. The wife, her hair dyed that particular white-blue color that older women affect and pulled back into a severe bun, started in immediately.

"It's our daughter, Mr. Stark. She's been missing for over two weeks. It's just not like her. Even if we don't hear from her during the week, she always comes to church with us on Sunday."

"How old his your daughter, Mrs. Stanley?"

"She'll be thirty-two tomorrow. That's why I know that something's wrong. We always have a party for her, and she and I always make all the preparations together." Her hands knotted up and twisted in her lap. "She hasn't even called, and we've checked everywhere, even the hospitals and morgues." Her face curled up in distaste. " We have, of course, gone to the Police, but they haven't been able to help at all. In fact, the man we talked to was very rude." She leaned forward in her chair, pleading. "Please help us, Mr. Stark. We just don't know what else to do, and we are very frightened that something bad has happened to her. I can feel that something is wrong. I just know it."

Her proud, thin husband sat silent and ramrod straight in his chair, showing no emotion. They reminded Stark of Grant Wood's painting, American Gothic, forty years later and moved to the city. The daughter had probably finally taken off on some sudden sexual escapade, throwing off years of repression and denial. It was par for the course.

"I wouldn't worry too much, Mrs. Stanley. This kind of thing happens all the time. I'm sure she'll turn up safe and sound in a few days. But yes, I'll help you. First though, I'll need some information."

Stark then proceeded to ask them the usual questions: physical description, identifying marks, employer's name, last time they had seen her, last address, etc., etc. This will definitely be the last case, he thought to himself as he listened to their answers. I've taken this character about as far as it goes. Chasing down repressed spinsters who are blowing off a lifetime of religious programming is about as exciting as a post office line.

                                       *                    *                    *                    *                    *

James The situation had changed drastically since that afternoon. Stark couldn't help but smile as he thought of the reaction Janice Stanley's parents would have if they knew what kind of girl their daughter really was. As he crossed the bridge at Slide Rock, Stark decided to pull over. There weren't too many tourists around so it was easy to find a parking spot. He got out of his car and walked over to where a trail led down to the creek. It was easy to see why the canyon, and this spot in particular, got over-run by sightseers every summer. The massive red rock cliffs that shot up on every side contrasted sharply against the deep blue of the sky. The fast running creek was clear and cold. It polished the millions of small stones in its bed to a gem-like luster. Pines, manzanitas, and aspens grew all around. It was quiet and peaceful. A light breeze blew through the trees. Stark walked down the trail to the creek, squatted, cupped water in his hands, and splashed it on his face. He listened to the sound of the water rushing by as he, again, tried to put the pieces together . . .

It had been easy enough to find and enter the world of Janice Stanley. Anyone could for the price of a few drinks. Little did her strict Baptist parents know that their hymn singing, prayerful daughter was the Queen of mud and jello wrestling at a topless bar on Thomas Road. They would also be shocked to find out that darling Janice was living with a coke dealer in Paradise Valley. At least until she disappeared.

Janice's dealer boyfriend, Larry, liked to talk. It's what he did best. As they sat by the pool of his house in the swank neighborhood north of Scottsdale, Larry told Stark everything there was to know about Janice Stanley, everything, and probably then some. He only stopped to snort more coke. Stark looked around him and thought that this wouldn't be a bad role to take on. It was a type of character that he had never done, perhaps, because it was too much like his own, before the accident - all flash, decadence, and glitter. He was too old for it now, anyway.

Larry told him that things had been going well with him and Janice, and that he didn't now why she took off, but that one morning a couple of weeks ago, he had come home to find her throwing some of her clothes into a small suitcase. She seemed upset but wouldn't tell him anything. All she said was that she needed a break and was going to go up north to see the trees turning. Larry said he figured that the only place a girl with her talents could have gone would be a town large enough to have a couple of topless bars. As far as he could tell, that could only mean Flagstaff. Stark was beginning to feel sorry for the girl.

"You don't' seem to be too worried about her. You say you haven't heard from her - did you go to Flag to look for her?"

"Nah, shit, she'll be back. She knows I got the best blow in the state. Besides, so what? It's her life. It's not like she's the only hot chick around. I mean, she wasn't even that hot really. Never would do another chick."

He dipped a tiny silver spoon into a small brown vial, sucked a spoonful of cocaine up his nose, leaned back in his plastic lounge chair, adjusted his body for maximum tanning, and lowered his mirrored sunglasses back over his eyes. The interview was over.

After that, it was up to Flagstaff and making the rounds of all the bars, holding a twenty dollar bill and photograph of Janice that her parents had given him. Flagstaff was a highway town, born and bred, with hundreds of bars and thousands of motels. Stark found himself a room in one of the nicer places that advertised a pool, and cable tv. It was two nights and two hundred dollars later when the lights went on and the bells started ringing. He was at a place called the Lamplighter, watching a beautiful, sleek, black woman do incredible things with a straight backed chair, when the bartender's eyes lit up.

"OOOYeah! I remember her!" he yelled over the music, "What a fox! Jesus, she was hot! But I'll tell ya! She hasn't been here for the last few nights! Probably pulled some cash together and split! You know how it is! They come and they go!"

At that point, a large Navajo, wearing a tall black cowboy hat with a long braid down his back, sitting two stools to Stark's right, motioned for the bartender to show him the photo. The man behind the bar didn't hesitate. The indian looked briefly at the picture then placed it on the bar. For a few seconds, he didn't move or speak, letting the raging music fill the void. Then, without looking at Stark, he asked, "Why do you want her?"

"It's her parents. They're really worried. They don't know about any of this."

The large man looked up, then, at Stark.

"Let's talk," he said, slipping off his stool and heading for the door.

Stark followed, threading his way through the loud, hooting crowd. When they walked out of the bar and into the gravel parking lot, Stark saw three large men in suits get out of a black limo and start walking toward them.

"Friends of yours?," he asked the Navajo distrustfully. The indian just looked at him with the same cynical question in his eyes. Immediately, the detective had a sudden sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach, and, at the same time, adrenaline started pumping through his system like an electric shock. The men approached them with the undeniable resolve of a wave coming into the shore. Stark recognized the grouping. The tall older man in the middle with the thousand dollar suit would do the talking. The two intense men on either side of him would be the muscle.

"Mr. Stark, would you come with us, please?" The older man's voice had the educated edge of a lawyer.

"You want to show me your badge?" Stark questioned, stalling for time.

"I'm afraid that won't be possible. However, Joseph here (indicating the man on his left, facing the Navajo), can show you something that might convince you."

At that point, Joseph slipped his hand into his suit coat, and it came out holding a large, ugly .45. He held it muzzle up, close to his chest, not really pointing at anyone in particular.

"As you can see," the older man continued," it would be advisable - "

He didn't get to finish. Before anyone could react, the six foot four, two hundred pound plus Navajo had reached up and grabbed Joseph by the wrist that held the gun. The sound of broken bones, as the indian squeezed, was sharp and immediate. A strangled cry escaped from Joseph as the pistol was removed from his now nonfunctional hand. Casually, Stark's new friend cocked and lowered the .45, pointing it directly at the older man's mid section.

"Get out of here. Now," he said quietly.

The three men started backing up immediately, Joseph holding his wrist and whimpering, the older suit shouting.

"Get off the case, Stark! Forget about the girl! She's not worth the price you're going to pay!"

The three men piled into the limo and started it up. The automobile exploded forward out of its parking place and accelerated toward Stark and the Navajo. The trajectory of the car, as it came toward them forced the men to run along the concrete block wall of the building that contained the bar. As they lurched around the corner, the limo caromed off the side of the building with a metal tearing scream, spitting glass and chips of cement in all directions. Stark stumbled and crashed into the corner of a metal bus stop bench. His jaw slammed against metal, and he felt a tooth go. Through the haze of pain, he watched the car jump, tires smoking, into the traffic and disappear down the street. The detective turned to look at the Navajo who was setting the safety on the .45 and putting inside the front of his cowboy shirt, under his belt.

As he stood, Stark extended his hand and said, "Thanks. I don't know why you did it. But thanks anyway. My name's Bill."

"Sam," said the indian, taking his hand. "You looked like you were on the outside looking in."

Stark looked into his eyes to see what he meant, and the meaning was obvious. He was looking into the eyes of a permanent outsider.

"You knew Janice?" the detective asked.

At the mention of her name, Sam smiled and looked away. Stark could see him slip back into a memory. His eyes filled with pleasure, but then, just as quickly, clouded over.

"She told me she was in trouble. She was scared. I don't think she even knew how much trouble she was in. What's the deal?"

"I don't know. I thought it was a simple runaway until now. This is all news to me. You got no idea?"

Sam shook his head. He looked at Stark, sizing him up. "She's holed up in a small hotel in Jerome. It's called the Connor."

Their eyes met again.

"You want to come?" asked Stark.

The Navajo shook his head again.

"I got family."

Stark sensed a finality and history behind the words that went beyond his experience. He smiled.

"Wish me luck."

"Yahtahe nana," said the other man.

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Stark was staring at the gnarly, exposed root system of a tree on the other side of the creek. He bent over, scooped up some more water, and ran it around the back of his neck. No matter how he put the pieces together, he realized that he was in the dark. He had no idea what was going on. No idea who those men were or why they were so intent on scaring him off. No idea what kind of trouble the girl had gotten herself into. This is where I should bail on this character, he thought. Just drop this whole identity and move on down the line. I'm obviously in over my head and pushing my luck. I don't know this girl. I'd be stupid to risk my life for her. Besides, I'm just an amateur. I might end up making this worse for both of us. That's what he told himself.

On the other hand, the case was taking on all the seductive elements of a B movie. Of all the roles that he had taken on since recovering from the amnesia induced by the accident, none had ever offered him the opportunity to consciously walk that thin electric line between life and death. None had allowed him to commit himself so totally to a character. Stark stood up, shook his head, and laughed softly. The thrill was undeniable. To pull this off would be it. He turned back and walked up the hill to his Buick. Taking one last look at the canyon around him, he got in, started the car, and headed for Jerome.

Coming out the canyon and entering Sedona, he pulled over to buy a pack of Camels and a cold soda to drink. On his way back to the car from the local convenience store, he passed a book store. As he glanced into the window, he saw his face, thirty years younger, staring at him from a poster. He never quite got used to it. A sudden jolt went through his system as he faced the evidence of his pre-accident existence. It was a blown-up publicity still from Rebel Without A Cause. He was staring from the poster, dressed in jeans, a t-shirt, and a red cloth windbreaker. He looked at his present reflection in the store window, back to the poster, and then again to the window. If it weren't for the facial scars from the accident, I wouldn't look all that much different, he thought, just older.


He stepped off the sidewalk, climbed into his car, started it, and drove out of town.

The memories came back then in a rush . . . Ray yelling at him to stop mumbling his lines and act. Sal, nervous and strung out on pills. And Natalie, poor Natalie, falling apart because she couldn't get the scene right up on the balcony of the observatory.

Twisting his way through the red rocks just outside of Sedona, James Dean headed for Jerome. As he came out onto the flats and opened up the Buick to a cruising speed of eighty-five, it all came back. The air blowing in the window was warm and the sky was clear and blue, as he sped out across the wide valley . . . The first thing that came back was the Porsche. Low, sleek, responsive, and quick. With the modifications he had done, the top end was one hundred and sixty. It was a day a lot like this one, except the road was empty. He hadn't seen another car for a half of an hour when he saw the hitch hiker up ahead. He was going so fast that he was a tenth of a mile past him before he could stop safely. The hitch hiker was roughly his same size, age, and build, but Dean really didn't think anything of it at the time. Actually, there hadn't been much time to think. He took the Porsche rapidly through the gears and pushed it toward its top speed. The truck came out of nowhere. There was no time to react. It was at this point that the memories became unclear. Even now, after conquering what had been three years of complete amnesia, the events just after the crash were disjointed and vague. He seemed to remember crawling away from the flaming wreckage, but he couldn't be sure. He did remember reaching up to his face and feeling the blistered skin peel away. His days of wandering across the hills (for that's what he must have done) were a total blank.

The next memory that did have any clarity was of a ranch and a family that took him on as a hired hand. They treated him like someone who was mentally handicapped. They talked to him slowly and gently. After that, it was wandering from job to job for a couple of years. It wasn't until 1958 that it started coming back to him who he really was. From the very beginning of the return of his memory, there was no desire to return and claim his former identity. The accident and the succeeding years had changed him, not only physically but emotionally as well. He realized that, whereas the accident had disfigured his face, his previous career, with its attendant hype and manufactured fame, had disfigured a deeper part of him. He decided to make the most of the opportunity and start over. It was something that very few people had a chance to do.

He also saw the opportunity to try and achieve something that always eluded him in his experience of acting on the stage or in films. Acting, for him, had become a type of spiritual discipline, wherein he attempted to totally submerge his own personality and take on that of the character he was playing. It never really worked. The commitment couldn't possibly be deep enough. It was always play acting. It was about then that he came across an article in Life magazine about a man named Fred Demara, who they called "The Great Imposter". The story of how Demara assumed different roles, careers, and personalities was inspirational to Dean. When he read how Demara had conned his way into the U.S. Navy as a supposed surgeon, and had actually performed successful surgery, Dean found himself howling and laughing out loud. Here was the answer. Now, he could do the kind of acting he always wanted to do.

He jumped into his new life with a fanatic enthusiasm, trying out new characters and careers every two or three years. The lifestyle fascinated him. First, he took on personas that were more physical in nature to help rehabilitate his body. He became a construction worker, a lifeguard, and a rodeo clown. This last role he was able to parlay into a job as a clown for Barnum and Bailey. It was one of his favorite parts. These professions were also easier to pass himself off as someone else because there were few questions asked - less documentation needed.

As the rest of the world yawned through the seventies and Dean moved into his forties, he began to take on more mature professions and identities. He transformed himself into a physical education instructor at a high school in Denver. He tried to pass himself off as a lawyer in Seattle, but he just wasn't able to pull it off. Then he drifted for a couple of years, taking odd jobs, until in seventy-eight he was hired by a small university in Oregon as a philosophy professor. This one was on-the-job training at its best. One night he would read about Plato's world of pure idea, and then the next day he would assign the same passage to his students. It took him two full years before Hegel and Kant started putting him to sleep in the classroom. At that point, he decided that it was time to adopt a more stimulating persona, and, in a fit of naivety, decided to become a private investigator.

All in all, he was satisfied with the way things had turned out. He was convinced that he had experienced life on a more intense level than he ever could have as a movie star. He laughed at the comparison. There were really only two regrets that he had. First, he could never allow himself the luxury of getting married. He had taken lovers along the way, but he could never allow himself to love someone so deeply that he would reveal his secret. It was a trade off that many times made him wonder if it was all worth it. But whenever it came down to a decision, he found himself going down the road to the next life. His second regret was perhaps even more painful. Of all his so-called friends at the end, before the accident, there was only one who he was ever tempted to call and let in on his secret. Bill Bast had been with him from the very beginning in New York, and over the years they had developed a bond that was hard to describe. Dean often felt guilty that he had never gotten in touch with his friend. He had followed his successful career as a writer, then later, as a producer at one of the networks, and finally, as head of the news department at NBC. He even had his unlisted Beverly Hills phone number. But he never called. It was a sore spot that wouldn't heal.                                        *                    *                    *                    *                    *

A large gray and white Dodge pickup truck with a camper on the back came at him out of an S-curve on the wrong side of a double yellow line and jerked him out of his reverie. Both vehicles jumped and brakes squealed. He saw the shocked face of the truck's driver and then a girl's face coming up from his lap. Then they were past. Dean realized that he was climbing up the mountain to the old mining town. The road followed a dried-up creek bed that cut up into the hills until, suddenly, he found himself snaking along the steep narrow streets of Jerome. He had never quite seen a town like this one before. It hung onto the side of the mountain in an act of will. Everywhere he looked the colors of fall were exploding around him, except when he looked out at the valley below. When he did, it seemed as though the top of his head opened up. He could see all the way across to Oak Creek Canyon, thirty miles away. The cuts in the cliffs were as sharp as the lines in his hands.

As he drove up through the town he saw that all the houses seemed to be out of another era. It was like entering into a different world, something out of the past. What a location, he thought and laughed. The road curved sharply to the left and, suddenly, he was in what appeared to be the main business part of town. The street ended at a t-intersection. To his right, on the corner, was a bar. He could hear loud music spilling out onto the quiet street. Stark drove through the intersection and parked in an empty lot across from the bar. He got out, stretched, and walked across the street. Sitting on an old wooden bench in front of the bar was a young man with dark hair and dark sunglasses sunning himself.

"Excuse me," said Stark, "Could you tell me where the Connor Hotel is?"

The man smiled slightly, and, then, in a thick English accent said, "It's right upstairs here. The bartender can rent you a room." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder, indicating the inside of the bar.

"Thanks," said Stark.

"Sure thing, mate," the man responded.

The interior of the bar was one large room with a fifteen foot tall ornate pressed tin ceiling. Over against the far wall, a band was setting up their equipment and starting to run a sound check. Dean walked over to the bar on his right and sat down on a stool. As he did, one of the members of the band yelled over to a cute, slightly chubby blonde girl behind the bar.

"Hey, M.B., bring us a pitcher!"

"Yeah, yeah. Hold on a second. I got a paying customer." She walked over to Dean. "Can I get you something?"

"How about a draft?"

She poured him one and brought it over.

He leaned over toward her and adopted a slightly conspiratorial tone.

"I'm supposed to meet someone here. Her name is Janice. She said she was going to get a room here. Has she checked in yet?"

"No one by that name has checked in here. Sorry." She turned to go.

Almost in a whisper, Dean leaned over and said, "She might be using another name." He proceeded to give her a guilty smile and then described Janice and pulled her picture out of his wallet.

As soon as the bartender saw the picture, her eyes lit up with recognition.

"Oh, her. She's been here a week. Got a room upstairs." Her enthusiasm cooled immediately. She gave him a look - and repeated almost reflexively, "She's been here a week - ," leaving an unspoken accusation hanging in the air. "Room 7. Third door on your left at the top of the stairs."

"Do you know if she's there, now."

"She went out about an hour ago," she said, turning her back to him and walking down the bar.

Stark walked out of the bar and around the small, three block, uptown business section, checking out the restaurants, looking for a face on a photograph. As he explored the narrow streets, hidden walkways, and old Victorian neighborhoods, of this ex-boomtown, the sun went behind the mountain and slipped everything into the shadows. The cliffs across the way, on the other hand, were still alive with sunlight and color. They seemed grow more and more red as the day came to an end. He decided to eat at a small place called the English Kitchen. It had an outside deck that had a view of the cliffs and the front door of the bar.

All through dinner he also found himself watching for a black limo with its left front bumper smashed in. He had a nervous meal.

About nine he headed back to the bar. He heard the band playing fast and frantic metal. He had expected something more countrified. The crowd was not quite what he had expected either. There were cowboys, long hairs, old folks, a contingent of punks with weird hair and wraparound shades, and couple of indians, a table full of bikers, a young kid with a backpack, and a few tourists. There was one couple that caught his attention. They were loaded down with expensive video equipment and lights. They were in the process of video taping the band's show. He concluded that they must be friends of the punks, because their attire and attitude tended in that direction. They occasionally seemed to talk to one another in a language of sound effects. Dean asked the bartender who they were. Yelling over the band, she told him.

"They're a couple of video artists out of San Francisco. Heard they got a state of the art studio down at the old High School. Don't really know them." She shrugged.

Periodically, through the night, Dean went up to Janice's room and knocked on the door, but it wasn't until about 12:30 that he saw her come in, thread her way through the crowd, and go up the stairs. He finished off a beer and followed her.

"Who is it?" He heard her throw another bolt on the door.

"My name is Stark. Bill Stark. I'm a private detective. Your parents hired me to find you."

At this point, she opened the door a crack, leaving the chain in place. Her face was drawn and pale. He pupils were the size of a period at the end of a sentence. Dean recognized the look immediately. A person had to take barbiturates for a couple of weeks straight to achieve it.

"Prove it." Her words slurred out of her mouth.

He pulled out the photo that her parents had given him and showed it to her.

"Your mother got as far as printing the invitations to your birthday party before she realized that you weren't coming."

She looked at him, closed her eyes, sighed, and undid the chain. She opened the door wide, let him walk through, closed it behind him, and locked it. There was a small lamp on a table by the metal frame bed. She walked over and turned it on. The bed was unmade and her clothes were lying around the room. Her suitcase was open and half emptied out on the floor by the bed. Dean thought of Larry, the coke king.

"I should have known it," she said as she sat down heavily on the bed.

With the proper lighting and make-up she would have been beautiful. It was easy to picture her doing her routine in one of those loud topless bars. Here, in this bare hotel room, with dirty disheveled hair, strung out on ludes or reds, and running scared, she looked just plain and desperate. She started crying, her face in her hands.

"I don't know what to do. I wanted some time to think." She looked up at him, her forehead knotting up, with a lost look.

Dean sat down in a chair next to the window overlooking the main street. He lit up a Camel and took a long, deep drag.

"Some assholes in a limo tried to kill me outside the Lamplighter last night . . . Told me I should get off the case." He let the statement hang in the air between them.

She reached over to a pill bottle on the table, turned it over in her hand to empty it out, realized there was nothing inside, and threw it across the room. She looked at him helplessly.

"I should never have gone with him . . ."


It all came out then, in a rush.

"This guy picked me up one night. He seemed alright. He had money and the best coke I'd had in weeks. Jesus, how was I supposed to know? He took me back to his place up on Camelback - a private gate, guards, pool, the whole shot. You know. Anyway, the next morning I woke up and he was gone. So, I started looking around, and right at the head of the bed, he had all this video equipment and this big control board. Well, I started pushing buttons, thinking maybe he's got some good porn on tape or something, but what it was - was he had the whole house wired. You know - cameras in every room. I could watch the cook making breakfast in the kitchen, the maid in the laundry room. I thought, Christ what a set up. This is my kind of place. Then I pushed another button and it's a room with him and bunch of these rich looking guys standing around yelling at one another. Well, I leaned back and turned up the volume. It looked like great entertainment. Kinda like a morning soap. Only, all of a sudden it wasn't funny. They were talking about that nuclear power plant that they're building outside of Phoenix. You know? Well, they're all screaming at each other, and one guy says, "If the press get a hold of this, you can kiss your ass goodbye." And the guy who brought me home says, "Don't worry about it. Jesus. There's nothing they can do about it anyway." "What do you mean there's nothing they can do!?" "There's too much money committed. There's no way anyone can stop it." Then the first guy says, "What - are you freebasing? Just the corners we cut in the cooling system can make that thing melt down. You told me that it would never go online!" And then my guy says, "I told you - don't worry - it'll never be activated."

She went on.

"I couldn't believe what I was hearing, so I threw a tape in the machine and started recording it. Then, when it seemed like they were almost done, I grabbed the tape and my things and ran."

They both heard the commotion at the same time. Heavy footsteps bounding up the stairs and down the hall toward her room - someone turning the doorknob, pushing against the locked door. She looked at Dean, frantic, and started digging through her suitcase. They heard someone outside in the hall say, "Bust it open." She threw a video cassette across the room to him.

"Get out of here! Take this to someone who can do something about it!"

Dean heard a large body crash into the door and saw the door jam start to crack and splinter.

"Get the hell out of here!" She screamed at him.

Dean opened the window and saw a rickety metal fire escape. He crossed over to her and grabbed her by the arm.

"Let's go," he said, moving her toward the window.

Photo by Mark Wilson

As he did, the door blew open, and the goons from the limo stumbled in. He pulled her to the window, stepped through, and started to pull her through, but the other men had also grabbed her. The fire escape started to rattle back and forth, and he could see the anchor bolts move in the loose brick of the building. He realized too late that he was bracing his feet against the building and his back against the fire escape itself. He suddenly lost his grip on the girl and lunged backward against the metal, which pulled the whole carriage away from the wall. The fire escape fell away from the building in a short arc, carrying him with it. He landed with a bone jarring jolt on the roof of a parked sedan. The crumpling metal of the automobile acted as somewhat of a cushion for his fall. He still got his breath knocked out of him. He rolled off the car and sprained his ankle when he hit the ground. He saw one of the men at the window aiming a .38 equipped with a silencer in his direction. He lurched to his left and heard the telltale spit of the shot and saw the bullet spark against the concrete of the street where he had just been. He kept moving away from the two shots that followed until he slipped around the corner of a building. He heard someone shouting from the window of the hotel room.

"Go get him!"

The road went downhill and took a quick turn to the right. As he ran past a large building on his left that seemed to be some kind of auditorium, he saw a dark alley. He ducked in and pressed himself into the shadows underneath a tree that grew next to the wall of the building across the alley from the auditorium. It was a dilapidated cement structure with all its windows boarded up. He heard someone whisper loudly from up on the street.

"C'mon. This way."

Dean looked around for a hole to crawl in. He tried to squeeze deeper into the darkness between the tree and the building. His eyes followed the trunk of the tree upward and saw that its limbs curved up over the roof of the structure. He stood and leapt up into the tree. A pain which was a combination of an electric shock and a torch ripped through his ankle. He pulled himself up on the one limb that went over the lip and shimmied up onto the roof. He had just rolled over onto the flat roof when he heard the men running down the alley in his direction. He pressed himself flat against the cool cement and felt his heart beating against its hard surface. Their footsteps thudded underneath him. He could hear them breathing hard in the mile high atmosphere. They stepped passed the tree, and he heard them whispering. They came back, walking underneath him, and continued back up the hill in the direction of the hotel. He let out his breath.

He pushed himself up on his elbows and examined the cassette that Janice had given to him. Everything now was startlingly clear. There was no need to wonder who was trying to kill him, or why. The only question now was what to do. He thought of going to the police, but wasn't sure who to trust and, in his case, questions would become awkward quickly. He looked out toward the valley, and as he did, the old High School out on the point from the main part of town, caught his eye. He could see lights on in a room on the top floor of one of the buildings. The couple with the video equipment came to his mind. He remembered what the bartender had told him about them having a studio down there.

Quietly and carefully, he climbed back down through the tree and dropped gently back to the ground, still keeping in the shadows. It took him a painful half of an hour to cover the mile or so to the school complex. Every pair of headlights was the black limo to his spooked perceptions, causing him to jump for the covering darkness every time a car passed. When he reached the school, he had to wait for two or three minutes until the road was clear. Then he bolted from his hiding place, sprinted across the street, and bounded up the stairs on the outside of what appeared to be the old gym building, up to the artists' studio. When he reached the top of the stairs and entered the building, he found himself in a pitch black hallway. It was only the sound of blaring music that allowed him to find his way to their rooms. It didn't help that they had dropped dark curtains across the hallway at various intervals. It reminded him of a rat lab. He made a left hand turn and saw the double doors that opened into his goal. He knocked on one of the doors and waited. No response. He knocked again, this time trying to make enough noise to be heard above the music. He finally got someone's attention.

"C'mon," they yelled from inside.

He opened the door and entered. It was a large room with tall ceilings and hardwood floors. Hanging from the ceiling all around the studio were huge, multi-colored batiks of different shapes and sizes. Musical instruments of all kinds, art materials, and a healthy array of video and electronic equipment filled the room. The young man that he had seen earlier looked up with a surprised expression on his face, as if he had been expecting someone else. He walked over to Dean.

"Hi. What can I do for you?"

"I have a tape that I need copied. Can you do it for me?"

The young man gave him a quizzical look and smiled.

"This isn't a commercial studio. We don't do that kind of work - especially at two in the morning. I think someone must have been yanking your chain."

"Please," Dean said, "Just take a look at it. This is very important."

By this time, the woman had walked over and was listening.

"What do you think?" her partner asked her.

The woman examined Dean, shrugged, "Let's see what he's got."

The young man took the tape, walked over to a VCR and slipped it in.

"Could you turn down the music?!" Dean yelled over the noise.

The woman flipped a switch, and the sound seemed to jump from two large speakers suspended from the ceiling over to a small radio over in the far corner. A TV monitor came to life, and, for the first time, Dean saw and heard the men who probably had given the order the kill whoever got in the way of getting this tape back. Just as Janice had said, there was a group of men standing around in what looked like a rich man's den. Two or three or them were on the verge of hysteria, shouting at the top of their lungs.

"I thought you said Ahearn was taken care of, for Christ's sake!! What the hell are you thinking!? If he keeps shooting his mouth off to the press - "

"Alright! So we didn't get to him!! It doesn't matter!!"

"What the fuck are you talking about!? They're planning on turning the fucking thing on within the year!! They got no fucking idea what they're doing!!"

"How many times do I have to tell you. It's under control!"

"Yeah!? Well, you better tell your buddies at APS that, because if they put that plant online, they're going to burn a hole in the map. It's just a matter of time. Do you have any idea what grade concrete actually went into - "

The young man hit stop and then rewind.

"This is the real deal, isn't it?"

Dean just nodded.


The woman was already at work, unwrapping a new video cassette , and putting it into a second VCR in the old decrepit wooden entertainment center , one shelf above the machine that had just finished rewinding Dean's tape. She hit play on one and record on the other. Once again they sat in silence as they watched the scene unfold. Dean's worst fears were confirmed. He listened in disbelief as the men on the tape talked of substandard equipment , faulty installations, cost over-runs, kick backs, falsification of test results, and the bribery of various officials, as if it were all just standard operating procedure. It was apparently just beginning to dawn on them that they were dealing with what was potentially a nuclear weapon and not just another shady construction project.

Dean looked over to the couple. The woman was shaking her head, and her partner just stared into the TV. The discussion on the tape seemed to be coming to an end as one of the men started to excuse himself. Then suddenly, the screen went dark. Dean could picture a freaked out Janice grabbing the tape, running through the house with her clothes half off, bolting out the front door, and running down the street to the first hiding place she could find.

"What are you going to do with this?" the young man asked, handing him the original and the copy.

Dean came out of his reverie.

"I don't know. I don't know who to trust. There's no telling who's involved in this. I . . . " He looked back and forth between them. "I don't know . . . "

"Well, for Christ's sake, do something," the girl said.

Dean started backing toward the door.

"Yeah . . . Listen, thanks for the help . . . "

"Stop them," said the young man.

Dean slipped back into the dark hallway, out of the building, and down the stairs. Across the driveway into the complex was a large two story building that obviously consisted of old classrooms. A set of double doors opened into a short set of stairs that led up to a wide tall hallway lined with lockers and doors that led to the classrooms. He found himself entering the building. Something drew him in. He could hear someone moving around in a room on the right, just at the top of the stairs. Dean moved silently up the stairs, peeked inside an open door, and saw an older man with long white hair, designer jeans, and high top sneakers, puttering away on a scrap metal sculpture. The man was totally involved with what he was doing, so Dean slipped by the door and deeper into the building. About half way down the darkened hallway he stopped, looked around, and seeing no one, tried one of the locker doors. It swung open with very little noise. He took the copy of the cassette and laid it on the top shelf of the locker, putting the original under his shirt. He closed the door and looked at the number. 419. He memorized it as he crept out of the building and back out onto the street.

He decided to go back uptown to his car. There was still a chance that he could make it there and get out of town before they caught up with him. That is, if they weren't already waiting for him. As he made his way up the hill, through the empty streets, he was amazed at the number of stars he could see. The milky way splashed across the black sky in a wide clustered belt of stars before it dropped below the horizon to the south. Coming around a long curve to the right and passing a secondhand store on his left, he started walking up a steeper slope. Not used to the altitude, he was panting as he limped up the hill. He made his way along a sidewalk on the right hand side of the road. A waist high metal pipe railing separated him from a sudden drop into the darkness below. Suddenly, he saw the lights of two cars approaching from opposite directions. Looking around frantically, he ran across the road and threw himself into some bushes growing on an almost perpendicular hillside. The cars came and passed him, but neither was the limo. Dean picked himself up and started back up the hill.

Without any warning, the limo, its lights out, was almost on him. It came ripping around the curve from the uphill side, accelerating as the driver recognized his prey. Dean raced across the road and was going to vault over the railing into whatever lay in the darkness on the other side, when the car screeched to a stop and he heard a familiar voice.

"Don't try it, Stark. Joseph would like nothing better than putting a quiet hole in your head."

Dean stopped and turned around. The well-dressed man who had done the talking in Flagstaff leaned out of the rear window and smiled.

"Please, Mr. Stark. Just get in the car. If things work out, we won't have to kill you. After all, it's not like we're the mafia." He was leaning over Joseph, who had a brand new .45 trained on Dean.

Joseph's aim never wavered as he got out of the car and motioned for Dean to step in. His right hand was wrapped in an ace bandage and hung from a sling around his neck. Dean smiled, but his heart tightened up like a fist in his chest as he stepped across the near lane and slid into the back seat. Joseph followed him in, and the driver reached around from the outside and closed the door.

"That's better," said the older man as the car moved down the hill, "Now, perhaps I can convince you to hand over what is obviously a piece of stolen property."

Dean looked at the man. He might have been a lawyer or a banker. Or someone's grandfather. His razor-cut white hair outlined a handsome face with well defined aquiline features. His eyes were alive with intelligence, and his voice showed education and breeding.

"How can you do this?" asked Dean.

"You don't understand, Mr. Stark," said his captor with an almost kindly look on his face. As they passed under a street light, Dean could see the man sigh lightly with resignation, as if he had gone over this particular conversation a million times before. "You don't understand how much is involved here."

"Bullshit," Dean spat, "You're talking about taking a chance with the lives of a couple million people. Where the hell do you get - "

Joseph brought the pistol up to Dean's head and cocked it.

"Have you ever seen the movie, Network, Mr. Stark?" asked the older man.

"What the fuck -"

"In the larger picture, we're not talking about losing one or two million people. We're talking about the possibility of losing one to two billion. If we don't keep this overextended, over-inflated global economy going, if we don't keep the third world from going down or exploding in our faces, if we don't keep the doors of our banks open, if we don't encourage massive international investment in order to circulate the wealth that there is - if, in short, Mr. Stark, we don't build this reactor, the whole house of cards will collapse. These are desperate times. More desperate than anyone who knows is willing to admit. Certain measures must be taken." He leaned back with finality in the seat and looked out the window at the passing town.

Dean stared at him with his mouth slightly open.

"And you think that you're one of those who is qualified to take those measures?"

"Someone has to, Mr. Stark. Ben," he addressed the driver, "pull over wherever it looks quiet. Frank, when we stop you can search our friend here for the cassette."

By this time they had swept around the tight curve that defined the High School and headed down a long steep grade that ended in another hairpin turn. At the bottom of the hill, they turned right, off the highway onto a dirt road. A small parking area was right at the entrance to the road. They turned in, stopped, and turned off the lights. Frank, the gorilla in the front passenger seat, got out and came around to Joseph's door. He opened it, and both Dean and Joseph climbed out. With the wounded man's gun to his head, Dean stood still while Frank searched him. He found the tape easily enough and walked around to the other side of the car to give it to his boss. The older man pulled aside a panel in the limo, revealing a VCR. He put the tape in, pressed play, and watched. The silver light of a TV monitor illuminated the interior of the car. The viewer nodded his head, leaned forward, pushed a button, and the screen went dark.

After a brief quiet talk with his employer, Frank climbed back in the front seat.

"Joseph, get in." It was a firm command.

As the gunman backed into the car with the .45 still trained on Dean, he gave the detective a look which made him realize beyond a shadow of a doubt that the older man had just spared his life.

"What makes you think that I won't go to the press or the police?"

"It doesn't matter, Mr. Stark. Without the tape, you're just another wacko with a conspiracy theory. Just another UFO abductee."

"So, that's why you're letting me go?"

"I told you. We're not murderers."

The windows of the limousine slid shut silently. The driver backed the car out of its parking place, and Dean watched them as they started to pull away. As they passed him, he could see the white-haired man reach into a hidden compartment and pull out a phone. He punched out a number on the illuminated dial and put the phone to his ear. Then they were gone down the hill and out of sight.

Dean didn't really know what to think as he hiked painfully back up to the High School, retrieved his tape, and continued uptown. The streets were silent and empty. It must have been about four in the morning. He could see the lights of Sedona thirty miles away. Coming into the main part of town, he could hear music. It was faint, but he could make out the sound of synthesizers. He drifted in the direction of the music for no particular reason, other than it meant there was someone else was awake in town.

I don't know who to trust, he thought. I could turn the tape over to the police, but how do I know they haven't been paid off already? And, or, more probably, their superiors. I can send it to one, or all of the networks for that matter, but then I still have the same problem. Then he remembered. His friend, Bill Bast, was head of the news department at NBC.

By this time, the music had led him up a set of wide, dark stairs that were flanked on the left with an overgrown empty lot and on the right by an old, three story, Victorian apartment building. There was obviously some kind of party going on in the apartment toward the top of the stairs. He could hear people laughing.

The problem with sending the tape to Bill, he continued thinking, is that whatever comes in to his office will probably be reviewed by someone else before it ever gets to him.

He was just coming to the party's level when it hit him. He stopped climbing. Christ, he thought, I'm going to have to take it to him! I'll have to tell him everything..

That realization stopped him. He heard the people in the party arguing about which song they wanted to play next.

"Maniac! Maniac!"

"No! Let's see China Girl. He has the uncut version!"

"Wait, wait! You guys wanna see something cool? Check this out!"

Dean could see inside the living room of the apartment through a porch railing and a screen door. The lights were dim, but he could make out the figure of a man crouching in front of a TV screen that was filled with white static. Suddenly, the TV came to life with music and color, Joni Mitchell's voice floating out toward Dean. Then, almost as quickly, the piece dissolved into a scene from an old black and white movie. It was a scene from Rebel Without A Cause.

Dean felt a chill. People in the apartment laughed and cheered.

In the scene, Bill Stark (his character) and his parents were arguing violently. Jim had just told them about the chicken run and how a boy named Buzz had gone over the cliff and been killed. He watched himself turn away from his parents and run his fingers through his hair. His father was telling him that if no one saw him then maybe he could say that he was never there - maybe there was still a way out. All Jim could say was, "It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter . . ." Finally, his father yells, "Well, you can't be idealistic all your life!"

Dean watched his younger self turn back from the window, face his father, and scream in desperation, "Except to yourself!" Then repeating himself softly and firmly, as if it had just really come to him, "Except to yourself."

The tape dissolved back into a Joni Mitchell song.

James Dean, fifty-four years old, realized that wouldn't have to pull the crumpled piece of paper that contained his friend's number out of his wallet. Although he had never used it, he had it memorized.

                                       *                    *                    *                    *                    *

He listened to the phone ring on the other end, as he stood at the outdoor phone booth outside the town's small City Hall. The phone was one story above Main Street, up a set of stairs that led to the main entrance to the town's offices. He could see the darkened hotel where he lost Janice, just a block away. The phone rang a few times before anyone answered. Finally, he heard the click of the receiver picking up. A sleepy, irritated voice greeted him on the other end.


"Bill, is that you?"

"Yeah, who is this? Jack?"

Dean hesitated. He went blank. The voice on the other end became more irritated.


"Bill. It's Jim."


"Jimmy. It's Jimmy - Dean."

The voice was quiet for a second. Dean was afraid he was going to hang up so he began spewing it all out.

"I know it sounds nuts, Bill, and I wanted to call you a million times but I just couldn't do it. It's too long of a story to get into here. Please don't hang up. I really need your help. I need to show you something. A lot of lives are - "

"Jimmy Dean is dead, friend," said the voice wearily.

"No. I know what you think, but I picked up a hitchhiker that day. He was the one they found. I had amnesia for years after that - "

"There was no hitchhiker. Jim and his mechanic were in the car. Listen, friend," the voice went on as if it had had this conversation before, "James Dean is dead - "

"No, Bill, listen. I've got to see you. I've got something -"

"Remember that apartment we had in New York in fifty-two? Remember that girl you got pregnant? What was her name?"

"What? What are you talking about? Bill, I know all this sounds crazy, but - "

"What was her name?"

Dean's mind went blank again. He didn't know. The voice continued.

"Don't have a clue, do you?"

"Yeah, no, but -"

"You don't think that this is the first time someone has claimed to be James Dean do you?"

"Bill, it's me -"

"The body was exhumed years ago. The tests were done. Fingerprints, dental records. The whole deal. James Dean is dead. I don't know who you are, friend, but do yourself a favor and get some help. And don't call me again."

The line went dead.

The man at the booth stared at the silent phone in his hand. His mind suddenly wouldn't work. It wouldn't think. He just stared at the object What was it? It seemed alien. Something was wrong. What was he doing here? He hovered in a mental and emotional null zone. He went numb. Part of himself wanted to stay numb. It felt safe. But something was moving. Moving toward him. Like a wave. It was building and wouldn't stop coming at him.



Arizona Foothills Magazine July 19, 2013

An Emerging History of Shadiness

After seeing attack ad after attack ad pop up in all manner of media places this week, it’s as good a time as any to take a look at our local monopoly utility’s descent into shady activity.

Just why does APS want to be so shady? It’s hard to say.

But here is a recent history of some, well, not-so-noble activity.

Back in March, APS, which co-owns the largest nuclear plant in the nation, Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant, pushed a bill, HB2485, through the Legislature that closes a loophole that was used to hold corporations accountable for environmental harm that they may cause. The bill helps shield APS and other corporations from the health and safety audits that uncover dangerous conditions.

With Fukushima still in everyone’s memories, some wondered why Arizona gave up rights to the operator of the largest nuclear facility (just 45 miles from Phoenix) in the country to hide health and safety problems.

Questions were rightly raised on blogs: Why did APS need to hurry to push this kind of bill through the Legislature? Why the hurry to shield themselves? Are things so bad at the nation’s largest nuke plant that APS is compelled to hide the information the public has every right to know about?

The Republic | Tue Oct 15, 2013 3:08 PM

A tiny leak inside the Unit 3 reactor at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station could delay reopening of the unit as long as 30 days and cost Arizona Public Service Co. and the other plant owners $10 million to $15 million to repair, officials said.

The leak released a small but unknown amount of radioactive water inside the concrete containment dome over the reactor, but not to the outside environment. The leak has not threatened any of the plant’s nearly 3,000 workers, officials said.

The leak was discovered by remote cameras after the unit was shut down Oct. 5 for scheduled refueling. Each of the three reactors 50 miles west of Pheonix is powered down every 18 months to replace about one-third of the fuel inside and to conduct scheduled maintenance.

The leak is on the bottom of the reactor vessel, where water is heated by the uranium fuel. No water was present, but a white residue indicating boric acid, which is used in the water, hinted that a leak occurred.

“Think about taking your car in to the mechanic on its 50,000 mile check up, that’s what we do,” said Bob Bement, senior vice president of site operations at Palo Verde. “We go under the hood and look at everything and make sure it is set up for long term operation.”

Officials were unsure how much water leaked out, because it would have immediately flashed to steam upon leaking. But they said that instruments constantly measure the humidity in the area, and those monitors did not detect an uptick in moisture in the air during the unit’s most recent run, nor did their monitors detect a drop in the amount of water in the vessel. They suspect the leak was less than 1/100th of a gallon per minute.

Palo Verde is operated by APS on behalf of the seven utilities from Texas to California that own a portion of the plant. The officials were anticipating the scheduled outage to take about 30 days, but the complicated repair work on the leak could increase that by 15 to 30 days, Bement said.

APS’ main goal is to repair the leak properly to safely generate electricity for the long term, Bement said, so the company will repair the leak properly regardless how long the plant must be kept offline.

Palo Verde generates more electricity every year than any other power plant in the country, a record it is on track to maintain for the 22nd consecutive year.

The delay means APS and other plant owners will have to find replacement power in the meantime. The unit averages about 31,488 megawatt-hours of output a day when it is running.

One megawatt-hour of electricity was trading for between about $30 and $40 in the regions from Texas to Southern California, including Arizona, as of last week, according to the Energy Information Administration. That means that the power produced from one unit of Palo Verde is worth about $1 million a day or more to the plant owners.

“We are going to put safety and reliability first, in that order,” APS spokesman Jim McDonald said. “You are not going to rush the outage with production in mind. This is not a race against the clock.”

The spring and fall outages are timed at Palo Verde to coincide with periods when electricity demand and prices are low, he said.

The other plant owners are Salt River Project, Southern California Edison Co., El Paso Electric, Public Service Co. of New Mexico, Southern California Public Power Authority and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.

In addition to the repair, Palo Verde has been adding about $100 million in upgrades to all three reactors to make them more resilient to large-scale disasters such as the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan.

The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami in Japan knocked out power to a six-reactor nuclear facility. Two reactors were in shutdown mode, and a third had been de-fueled. But without power, the three reactors that were running eventually melted down when they could not be kept cool with recirculated water. The used fuel in the other reactors also needed to be kept cool with water.

APS officials said the threat of flooding at the Arizona plant is remote, but they conducted some earthwork on the plant site to prevent any water from backing up to the reactor site.

They also are adding hook-ups for outside diesel generators, should they ever need to be brought in if the plant loses outside power like the plants in Japan. Similar connections are being added to the spent fuel pools at Palo Verde, in addition to new pumps that can be brought in if the plant’s pumps fail.

“This gives our operators equipment they will never need, we hope,” Bement said.

The upgrades will continue to be added to the reactors during their scheduled refueling outages, and should be complete by 2015, he said.

Associated Press Fri Jul 5, 2013 3:02 PM

A reactor unit at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona was nearly back to full production Friday after what its operator described as a minor explosion in a cabinet that held electrical switching gear.

Arizona Public Service Co. reported the Tuesday night incident as an “unusual event,” the lowest of four emergency levels classified by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The company and an inspector with the regulatory commission said no radioactive material was released.

Palo Verde’s Unit 1 automatically reduced its power production to 60 percent but started ramping back up Thursday, reaching 95 percent by early Friday afternoon.

APS spokesman Betty Dayyo said the explosion consisted of arcing inside a cabinet, called a “load center,” that routes electricity to equipment in a turbine building. “This is really a minor incident,” said Dayyo, adding the cause was under investigation.

Palo Verde’s own fire department responded but found no fire, APS said.

Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas utilities own the three-reactor plant, 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix.

John Reynoso, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s senior on-site inspector for Palo Verde, said he went to the plant right after the evening incident and inspected the load center.

He said it was blackened by an apparent flash-over but said he saw no immediate indication of shortcomings that would indicate a broader problem.

NRC inspectors will monitor the operator’s investigation, Reynoso said. “We’re real interested in how they learn from this.”

APS and another Arizona utility, the Salt River Project, own the plant along with Public Service Co. of New Mexico, El Paso (Texas) Electric Co, Southern California Public Power Authority, Southern California Edison Co. and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Palo Verde shuts down reactor for repairs
by Ryan Randazzo - Nov. 24, 2008 04:05 PM

One of the three reactors at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station shut down Friday to fix a turbine cooling-system leak, reducing output during what was shaping up to be a banner year at the facility.

“The health and safety of the public is not affected,” spokeswoman Betty Dayyo said. “This is on the non-nuclear side of the plant.”

But the fix could take several weeks, she said, leaving Arizona Public Service Co. and the plant's other owners buying replacement power from coal or natural-gas power plants.

Utility customers, including those of Salt River Project, will pay the higher cost of electricity for that replacement power unless regulators determine the outage was avoidable, in which case APS would be on the hook for the cost.

“This will be examined in the APS rate case and will be scrutinized,” Corporation Commissioner Kris Mayes said.

APS Chief Nuclear Officer Randy Edington said the utility was not forced to shut the reactor down to repair the small leak of hydrogen used to cool the freight-train sized turbine. But the low energy demand in November provides a good opportunity to make the fix.

Edington has known about the problem in Unit 2 for more than 30 days, he said, but wanted to wait until Unit 1 was brought back online last week after a refueling shutdown, which each reactor needs every 18 months.

“We've been monitoring it and are taking the opportunity to take it off before the Christmas holiday,” he said. “We didn't want it to go down during Christmas, or into the next refueling outage (a single-reactor shutdown) scheduled in spring.”

The plant only had three unexpected outages this year before Friday, compared with 13 times last year and 11 times in both 2005 and 2006 when output had to be reduced at least 50 percent.

Edington still could achieve an 84 percent capacity factor for the plant this year, although the outage will prevent the 86.5 percent he was anticipating. The capacity factor has been in the 70s the past three years, and hit a record 94.4 percent in 2002.

“Obviously, we would prefer we not have a problem,” spokesman Jim McDonald said. “But this doesn't make it any less of a good year. The fact is that Palo Verde has emerged from a difficult time with a tremendous rapport with the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission), with an operating philosophy that puts safety clearly ahead of production.”

The plant has seven owners who get a set amount of the total energy coming out of the reactors, regardless how many are online. The owners include APS (29.1 percent), SRP (17.5 percent), Southern California Edison (15.8 percent), El Paso Electric (15.8 percent), PNM Resources (10.2 percent), Southern California Public Power Authority (5.9 percent), and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (5.7 percent).

Leak forces Palo Verde to shut 1 reactor

Ryan Randazzo
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 9, 2007 12:00 AM

The Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station shut down one of its three reactors Saturday because of a cooling-water leak, officials said.

The leak in Unit 2 is not radioactive and not a threat to the public, said a spokeswoman for the plant, which is 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix.

That brings the plant, a crucial source of electricity for the Valley, down to one operating reactor.

Unit 3 is undergoing a scheduled refueling and steam-generator repair that is expected to keep it off-line for 75 days.

Unit 2's cooling-water leak should be repaired quickly and the reactor could be at full power by Friday, said Betty Dayyo, an Arizona Public Service Co. spokeswoman. The utility operates the facility for several owners.

Unexpected outages can affect the price Arizonans pay for electricity because they force utilities to buy or generate more-expensive energy to replace the relatively cheap energy generated at Palo Verde.

APS can turn up some of its natural-gas-fired power plants in the region that are not running at capacity to make sure Arizonans have enough electricity, Dayyo said.

"We're looking at the costs between our own units and what the market (price for electricity) is," Dayyo said.

A Salt River Project spokesman said that it likely will cost the utility and its customers more to replace power that utility normally gets from Palo Verde but that it is difficult to determine how much this early in the outage.

"Our resources are plenty to meet customer demand," SRP spokesman Scott Harelson said.

Most of the Valley is served by APS or SRP.

Separately, an independent audit of reactor problems in 2005 and 2006 at Palo Verde's Unit 1 caused by a vibrating cooling pipe found that APS' actions were "reasonable and prudent" in handling that expensive problem.

GDS Associates Inc. of Georgia reviewed the problem and determined that it could not have been anticipated and that repairs were made "in a reasonable amount of time."

It cost APS $79 million to replace the power lost during that episode, and it has been collecting the increase from ratepayers.

If the GDS report showed the utility acted irresponsibly, regulators might have been more likely to ask the utility to refund the money.

GDS has previously determined that some earlier outages at the plant were the utility's fault, and it recommended against allowing APS to collect higher energy costs.

"APS believes that all replacement power costs (from the vibrating-pipe outage) were prudently incurred and that . . . (the money) will not have to be refunded," APS spokesman Alan Bunnell said.

Palo Verde safety grade slips

Downgrade by regulators means more oversight for nuclear plant

Mark Shaffer
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 23, 2007 12:00 AM

Federal regulators on Thursday downgraded Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station into the category of most-regulated nuclear plant in the country.

The decision by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to place the plant in Category 4 means the nation's largest nuclear plant will face much more rigorous oversight and up to 2,500 additional hours of federal inspections annually for at least two years.

Only one other nuclear plant, Perry in Ohio, is Category 4, and it is expected to be upgraded next month, agency officials said.

Officials at Palo Verde, 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix, will have to develop a detailed performance improvement plan so "we can determine the scope of the problems," said Victor Dricks, a spokesman for the NRC in Arlington, Texas.

Jim McDonald, an Arizona Public Service Co. spokesman, said, "We want to work with the regulators, we want to improve the plant and we want to safely generate electricity for Arizona and the Southwest."

How much money the downgrade will cost APS and other utilities vested in the plant, as well as how it might affect APS' bond rating or possibly affect rates, remained unclear Thursday.

The NRC has five categories for ranking the performance of the nation's nuclear power plants. A ranking of five means the plant is shut down until corrective actions are taken. Only one of the nation's more than 60 nuclear power plants has ever been listed in that category.

NRC Chairman Dale Klein today will visit Palo Verde, the largest producer of electricity in the state, to meet with workers about oversight issues and tour portions of the three reactors.

After a series of problems at the plant, the final straws for the NRC were electrical relays in an emergency diesel generator that did not function during tests in July and September. Regulators said problems in the electrical relays made the generator inoperable for about 18 days last year.

The agency issued a finding of white, or low to moderate safety significance, for the violation.

But, coupled with other past problems, the finding means Palo Verde will be relegated to the most-heavily monitored plant in the country.

Palo Verde woes weigh on future

Jan. 18, 2007 12:00 AM

Even with an options-timing scandal hanging over him, Apple CEO Steve Jobs can take the stage as a rock star, bringing out the next revolutionary gadget, the iPhone, to near-universal acclaim.

It's different for Bill Post, chief executive of Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent of Arizona Public Service Co. His customers think of him, if at all, only in the rare event that they turn on the light switch and nothing happens.

Our life now runs on the product APS produces, carried on silent, slender lifelines to big cities and isolated settlements. It's basic and unsexy. That it's taken for granted is one of the dividends of the mighty acts that conquered the Sonoran Desert wilderness.

Yet ensuring that the electricity is there is anything but easy, especially in the fastest-growing state. And power is life-or-death for millions who get to live in air-conditioned bliss in the hostility of the Arizona summer.

The biggest challenge for Post and APS just doesn't seem to ease up: the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.

For several years, the plant has suffered costly shutdowns and regulatory black eyes. Federal regulators have given it the third-lowest performance rating of the nation's 65 nuclear stations.

Now APS is fighting to avoid a further downgrade from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that could require it to spend millions more on Palo Verde. APS has shaken up its nuke management, including seeing the retirement of longtime generation boss Jim Levine.

The consequences of failure are serious for APS, including extending to how the capital markets view the company. APS is also one of Arizona's last "leader companies," taking a major civic role and detaching senior executives to help on critical local issues.

Yet the biggest consequence of failure to improve Palo Verde is to fatally undercut a quiet conversation Post and other APS executives have been having in the community about meeting the state's future power needs.

Doing it with nuclear energy.

America faces an energy crunch in the coming decades as oil and natural gas become more scarce and expensive. Even if they are available, they are major contributors to global warming. The same problem comes from coal, as well as added pollution that can be eased only with expensive new technology.

The promise of alternatives is, at most, just that. None can deliver large amounts of all-weather, year-round energy at affordable prices.

This coming energy crunch will be felt most profoundly in fast-growing places, where utilities feel constant pressure to keep up with growth. In Arizona, the foundational economic-development strategy is attracting new residents through relatively low living costs, including electric bills.

Nuclear proponents say there's no cheaper or more reliable form of energy. And despite environmental concerns, I'm convinced we're going to need all kinds of power options in the decades ahead. Although Palo Verde is the nation's largest nuke plant, it won't be enough for Arizona's needs. And it is halfway through its reasonable lifespan.

But nuclear is a hard sell, and building new nuclear plants will mean that APS must show it can operate one that meets and exceeds regulators' expectations.

On Tuesday, APS again promised to do better. It brought this rebuke from Bruce Mallett, the NRC regional administrator: "Each time we talk, you have a plan and lay it out and it sounds real good. Then something else happens, and it looks again like you don't have technical rigor."

The NRC, hardly anti-industry under Republican administrations, also has described the degradation in Palo Verde's safety systems as "egregious."

Officials: Palo Verde violations 'Egregious'

Mark Shaffer
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 27, 2006 12:00 AM

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Tuesday chastised Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station for having an "egregious" amount of deterioration in key backup safety components at the plant, but decided against increasing oversight at the facility.

The nation's largest nuclear plant has been in limbo in recent weeks while the federal agency decides whether Palo Verde will fall into the lowest category of nuclear plants nationwide.

If that happens, the increased regulation could cost Arizona Public Service Co. ratepayers millions of dollars for repairs at Palo Verde, located 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix.

But Tuesday's report, which examined five violations involving errors in mixing of chemicals in emergency spray ponds for more than a decade, did not go that extra step. All of the violations were determined to have low-risk significance.

The federal agency's language, however, was sharp.

"The large amount of degradation of these key safety systems for a long period of time is particularly egregious," the report noted, adding that they are "the same types of performance problems we have identified at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station since 2004."

Those problems, according to the agency, include not using "technical rigor" in assessing problems, not reporting problems and taking corrective actions, and not identifying and correcting problems before the federal agency finds them during investigations.

Palo Verde has been classified by the agency as a "degraded cornerstone" and has had increased scrutiny by federal regulators in the past year.

Two weeks ago, Jim Levine, an APS vice president who oversees Palo Verde's day-to-day operations, announced his retirement, effective Jan. 1.

"There's no question that Palo Verde's performance has not been up to our standards and we need to get back to that," said Jim McDonald, an APS spokesman.

Palo Verde workers mixed excessive amounts of phosphate and zinc into spray ponds to try to control erosion of safety components in pipes for 12 years, until earlier this year.

That led to deposits on tubes, increased insulation and incorrect heat transfer between emergency units.

A meeting is scheduled for Jan. 16 between Nuclear Regulatory Commission and APS officials to discuss an inoperable emergency diesel generator found at Unit 3 during a September inspection at Palo Verde.

If federal regulators determine that violation is more serious than low-safety, or "green" significance, Palo Verde will fall to the lowest level of nuclear plants.

More trouble for Palo Verde

Already in hot water with nuclear agency, plant officials must explain generator ills.

Mark Shaffer
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 8, 2006 12:00 AM

Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station could be in a deeper hole with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after preliminary inspection findings that the plant had an inoperable emergency diesel generator for much of September.

The commission and Palo Verde officials will meet Jan. 16 in Arlington, Texas, to discuss the agency's report on the then-faulty Unit 3 generator, which was released Thursday.

The stakes are expected to be high for the nation's largest nuclear power plant, 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix.

If the NRC finds that the violation is anything more serious than that of low-safety, or "green," significance, Palo Verde will sink to the level of the most heavily monitored nuclear power plant in the country, along with Perry in Ohio.

That likely would cost Arizona Public Service Co. and ratepayers millions of dollars because of repairs the increased scrutiny would mandate.

The nuclear plant also could end up at a higher level of regulation if the NRC finds anything more than a low-safety violation because of a bad chemical mix that plant workers placed in emergency spray cooling ponds from 1994 to earlier this year.

Excessive amounts of zinc and phosphate had been mixed into the water to try to control erosion of safety components in pipes. But the chemical mix led to deposits on the tubes, increased insulation and incorrect heat transfer.

A final report on the chemicals in the cooling ponds is expected before the end of the year, said Victor Dricks, an NRC spokesman.

"Each of the findings of these inspections will be assessed independently," Dricks said. "But one more finding of anything but green will change the landscape for Palo Verde."

Jim McDonald, a spokesman for APS, the largest stakeholder in Palo Verde, acknowledged that performance at the plant "hasn't been up to our high standards of the past, and we're committed to changing that."

Palo Verde already is one of the most-monitored plants in the country by federal regulators.

It is classified as a "degraded cornerstone" because of a "dry pipe" that was found during a 2004 inspection that had the potential to disrupt the flow of water to the core's emergency cooling system.

According to the NRC's report, a federal investigations team was sent to the plant in early October to look into failures in the emergency diesel generator on July 25 and Sept. 22 that interrupted electrical transfers.

Each of the three units at Palo Verde has two of the 5,500-kilowatt generators to provide standby power if the normal power supply is lost.

The NRC report noted that the generator was inoperable from Sept. 4 to Sept. 22 and that incorrect maintenance had been conducted on an electrical relay in the unit.

"The licensee (Palo Verde) determined the root cause . . . could be attributed to either plastic debris or oxide film buildup," the report said.

Palo Verde may face intensified scrutiny
Issues at nuclear plant concern U.S. regulators

Mark Shaffer
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 10, 2006 12:00 AM

The already troubled Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station soon could become one of the country's most scrutinized nuclear power plants by federal regulators, with repair issues involving millions of dollars.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials said Thursday that they will begin a special inspection of Palo Verde's core safety injection valves next week and have scheduled a Nov. 20 meeting with the power plant's executives to discuss ongoing repair issues.

That meeting is expected to have big implications for Palo Verde's future.

The nuclear plant already is under heightened scrutiny from federal regulators, primarily because of a 2004 safety violation for a "dry pipe" that had the potential to disrupt the flow of water to the core's emergency cooling system.

Findings from recent investigations into Palo Verde's emergency diesel generators and an improper chemical mix in pipes in the emergency cooling system could have further implications, including even closer scrutiny for the nation's largest nuclear power plant. Palo Verde now is listed by federal regulators as a "degraded cornerstone," and only two of the nation's 103 nuclear reactors have poorer ratings.

According to commission documents, the agency already has preliminarily issued a "greater than green" finding about the problems, meaning the problems could be classified as either moderate or significant safety violations. Federal investigators had found 24 minor violations at Palo Verde in relation to worker performance earlier this year.

However, a spokesman for Arizona Public Service Co., which operates Palo Verde, said he believes that the needed repairs already have been made and that the fixes will pass muster with the commission.

Victor Dricks, a commission spokesman in Arlington, Texas, said, "The plant is operating safely, but there are a number of areas we have concerns about in human performance and the identification and resolution of problems."

With the cooling system, Dricks said that Palo Verde began a chemistry-control program in 1994 to try to solve problems of corrosion and other erosion of safety components in pipes in emergency spray ponds.

"But the materials they added to reduce corrosion on the metal tubes instead created chemical deposits on the tubes, which added greatly to the insulation and altered significantly the heat exchange," Dricks said.

Commission officials found that excess amounts of zinc and phosphate had been mixed into the water.

"The chemistry personnel implementing the program did not fully understand how the spray pond chemistry-control program was supposed to work," according to the commission report.

With the emergency diesel generators, investigators found elevated temperatures in the intake air of one generator "indicative of inadequate cooling in the intercoolers."

The problem did not affect operation of the generator, but the agency's preliminary report said the intercoolers had been fouled "by a white slimy substance which was apparently reducing the ability to transfer heat."

The commission is expected to rule by early next year whether to issue a safety violation to Palo Verde concerning the generators and spray ponds. If the violation is issued, the power plant would sink to the level of the two most heavily monitored nuclear power plants in the country: Perry in Ohio and Point Beach in Wisconsin.

Commission officials said that another rating downgrade for Palo Verde would take the plant years to recover from, likely would involve spending millions of dollars for fixes, and would require developing a comprehensive improvement plan for plant operations.

Inquiry at Palo Verde Starts
Nuclear panel orders special inspection after failure of auxiliary diesel generator

Mark Shaffer
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 3, 2006 12:00 AM

Federal inspectors on Monday began a weeklong probe of emergency diesel generators at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, the latest in a series of problem areas plaguing the nation's largest nuclear plant.

The special inspection was ordered by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after a Unit 3 generator did not activate during plant inspections July 25 and Sept. 22.

Each unit of Palo Verde has two diesel generators, which are operated if there are major disturbances in the power grid. The most recent of those emergency situations was two years ago, said Jim McDonald, a spokesman for Arizona Public Service Co., which operates Palo Verde.

In addition to the inspection of Unit 3, both Units 1 and 2 have been taken offline.

Unit 1 was shut down on Sept. 19 because of a recurring problem with pressurizer heaters and is expected to be operating by Thursday, McDonald said. Unit 2 was shut down Saturday for refueling and maintenance and isn't expected to be back in operation until mid-November, McDonald said. Unit 3 will not be shut down during the inspection.

In 2004, a so-called dry pipe that could have disrupted the flow of water to the emergency core-cooling system was found. APS repaired that problem, but federal inspectors discovered other issues during investigations afterward, most of them problems not directly tied to safety.

In a letter sent to Palo Verde management on Aug. 31, NRC officials noted 24 minor violations over a six-month period, including issues with decision-making systems, not always following technical requirements during nuclear reactor restarts, ineffective communication and poor interaction between engineering and operations workers.

"These issues aren't anything that affect the ability to operate the plant successfully," said Victor Dricks, an NRC spokesman in Arlington, Texas. "But the problem there remains finding the root causes of the problems rather than just treating the symptoms."

The NRC inspection team will prepare a written report about a month after the inspection is completed.

"APS has taken corrective action to ensure the emergency diesel generators will work," Bruce Mallett, regional administrator for the NRC, said in a prepared statement. "But we felt it appropriate to take a deeper look at this issue through a special inspection."

Increased oversight at the plant by the NRC began after problems with the dry pipe were found two years ago. Only three of the nation's 103 nuclear reactors have poorer ratings from the NRC than Palo Verde.

McDonald said that replacing the power generated by Unit 1 will have cost about $4 million by Thursday, when the unit is expected to restart.

McDonald said that if higher-than-normal temperatures persist, APS will be comparing the cost of using generators it does not normally operate as opposed to purchasing power from other sources to come up with the best deal.

"It's always safety over production," McDonald said. "To have a fundamentally sound nuclear operation, you have to put safety first, even when it's not easy to do that."

1 reactor at Palo Verde shut down
Utility seeks reason behind device failures

Mark Shaffer
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 20, 2006 12:00 AM

Unit 1 at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station was shut down early Tuesday because of a recurring problem with pressurizer heaters.

Jim McDonald, an Arizona Public Service Co. spokesman, said the unit, one of three reactors at the nation's largest nuclear plant, would be out of service for at least a week.

"We need to know what is the root cause of the problems with these heaters," McDonald said.

McDonald said that Unit 1 has 36 pressurizer heaters and that five have failed during the past two months. He said 23 of the heaters need to be functioning properly for the unit to be in operation.

"We evaluated whether we could find out the problem with the unit still online and decided it would be best to take it offline for at least a week," McDonald said. "Power supply is not an issue now."

APS officials had said that they plan to shut down Unit 2 later this month for five weeks of refueling and maintenance.

The 1,243-megawatt Unit 1 creates enough electricity at peak production to power more than 300,000 homes.

12 disciplined at Palo Verde
Move is to reassure NRC about oversight

Mark Shaffer
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 13, 2006 12:00 AM
A dozen Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station supervisors and line workers either have been fired or transferred since February as the plant tries to ease federal regulators' concerns about oversight at the nation's largest nuclear plant.

Cliff Eubanks, vice president of nuclear operations for Palo Verde, told Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials in a meeting last week that the changes were made because "we're very serious about improving performance."

Jim McDonald, an APS spokesman, said, "We've made certain changes regarding leadership with people not meeting the challenges."

Eubanks also indicated that more changes could be made as an outside consulting group continues an assessment of plant leadership through Oct. 1.

An NRC spokesman said he was pleased with the personnel changes, which Palo Verde officials said they could not discuss in more detail because of privacy considerations.

"It's a definite step in the right direction, but it's too early to tell what the cumulative effect of the changes will be," said Ken Clark of the NRC's office in Atlanta. "Overall, their operation continues to be considered safe, but that's not to say they don't have problems that need to be addressed."

Only three of the nation's 103 nuclear reactors have poorer ratings from the NRC than Palo Verde.

In 2004, a so-called dry pipe that could have disrupted the flow of water to the emergency core-cooling system was found. Arizona Public Service Co. repaired that problem, but federal regulators discovered other issues during investigations afterward, most of them non-safety problems.

Federal inspectors found 24 minor violations over a six-month period earlier this year, according to a letter sent to Palo Verde management Aug. 31. Among the problems: issues with decision-making systems, not always following technical requirements during nuclear reactor restarts, ineffective communication and poor interaction between engineering and operations workers.

During the meeting between APS and the NRC last week, NRC regulators repeatedly mentioned their concern that communications problems remained between supervisors and front-line workers.

"Because of a lack of sufficient progress . . . we plan to conduct an additional problem-identification and resolution inspection in early 2007 to further evaluate the effectiveness of your correction actions," Bruce Mallett, regional administrator of the NRC, wrote in a letter to Jim Levine, APS executive vice president of generation, who oversees Palo Verde's operations.

Palo Verde Water Spills Investigated
Feds probe tritium levels at nuclear plants
Billy House and Ken Alltucker
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 23, 2006 12:00 AM

ROCKVILLE, Md. - Prompted by a string of accidental radioactive discharges, federal monitors said Wednesday that they have formed a task force to investigate the spills at several power plants across the country, including one at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Wintersburg.

"It does appear that it's bang, bang, bang, one right after the other," Steve Klementowicz, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission senior health physicist, said of discharges of radioactive tritium-laced water at nuclear plants in Arizona, Illinois and New York.

Tritium, a byproduct of nuclear power generation, is a relatively weak source of radiation. But long-term exposure can increase the risks of cancer, miscarriages and birth defects. It can be ingested or absorbed in human tissue.

At the Palo Verde plant about 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix, the largest nuclear generating site in the country, an NRC health inspector has been working during the past week with officials from Arizona Public Service and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to pinpoint the source and amount of the contamination.

APS, which operates the plant on behalf of itself and six other owners, first notified the state on March 2 that it found tritium in a maze of underground pipes. Water samples taken a day before had turned up levels 3˝ times those considered acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency for drinking water.

Among groups that have been calling for an NRC investigation of the leaks is the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In Arizona, although APS has not pinpointed the source of the tritium contamination in water found at Palo Verde, company officials said more and more evidence suggests that rainfall, rather than a cracked or leaking pipe, could be a source. Adding to this "washout" theory, they said, is that recent rainfall samples collected from a roof vent found tritium levels similar to the samples found in the contaminated water.

"This is what we believe is going on," said Craig Seaman, Palo Verde's general manager of regulatory affairs. "We're certainly not willing to hang our hat on this yet and say this is the absolute answer." Palo Verde vents tritium into the air as a normal byproduct of nuclear power generation. Other nuclear power plants typically dispose of the chemical in streams or lakes where it quickly dissipates, Seaman said. Seaman said APS officials believe rainfall captured the tritium released from the plant and washed it into the soil there. He said APS believes it is a "localized phenomenon" restricted to Palo Verde, so it is unlikely rainfall outside the plant would carry heavier tritium samples.

State environmental officials who also are working with APS to determine the source of the tritium said rainfall would be more problematic than a leaking pipe. "If that is their conclusion, that tritium is being released into the air and coming down to earth with the rain, that raises a heck of a lot more questions in my mind than it answers," said Steve Owens, director of the DEQ.

Palo Verde Shuts Down A Reactor
Ken Alltucker
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 18, 2006 12:00 AM

One of three reactors at the Palo Verde nuclear power plant shut down Tuesday after operator Arizona Public Service Co. discovered a problem with the unit's main emergency shut-down line.

It's been a problem APS has monitored closely for years but became more pronounced when the Phoenix-based utility restarted Unit 1 the week before Christmas after a refueling and repair outage.

Crews discovered that Unit 1's emergency shut-down line experienced an "acoustic impact" that vibrated the reactor's shut-down line beyond acceptable levels.

APS had been operating the reactor at about one-third of capacity due to the vibrations, but operators decided to shut down the reactor and attempt to fix the problem.

"It's a sound you would get when whistling into a Coke bottle," APS spokesman Jim McDonald said. "It creates a vibrating effect on the emergency shut-down line. We are shutting down Unit 1 and hope to come up in a relatively quick manner."

McDonald said that crews believe that the unit could restart within two days after crews study and attempt a variety of repairs.

Among the potential fixes could include adding shock absorbers, installing weights or adding heat to the emergency shut-down line to reduce the rattle and hum.

The utility said a contributing factor to the higher level of vibrations could be the unit's new twin, 800-ton steam generators and low-pressure turbines. APS replaced those parts at a cost of more than $200 million during the latest refueling.

"The steam generators did change the flow characteristics, which has an important role in all of this," McDonald said.

The steam generators' replacement represents the unit's largest construction job since the reactor opened in 1986, and the new generators have the capability of boosting the 1,250-megawatt reactor's electricity output by about 3 percent.

Federal regulators have approved more than 100 small expansions, known as "uprates," at nuclear plants across the nation. Some anti-nuclear groups have been critical of the process, especially at older nuke plants in the Northeast and Midwest, because they believe such expansions compromise safety.

In 2002, Exelon Corp. discovered problems shortly after restarting its Quad Cities power plant in Illinois after an increase in power output. An investigation showed that a hole had formed in the plant's steam dryer, which was exacerbated in part by the higher level of vibrations resulting from the power uprate.

The Quad Cities nuclear power plant has a far different design from the three Palo Verde units.

McDonald said that Palo Verde Unit 2 did not experience any vibration-related problems when its steam generators were swapped out in 2003.

Palo Verde, located 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix, is the nation's largest nuclear power plant and a critical source of power for the Southwest and the Valley. Although the nuclear power plant has been among the nation's top performing plants since it opened in 1986, it has experienced numerous outages over the past two years that have resulted in more than a dozen shutdowns.

APS has estimated that the Palo Verde shutdowns last year cost the utility at least $40 million to replace the cheaper nuclear-generated electricity with more expensive electricity generated by natural gas or coal.

Palo Verde now is completely off-line

Max Jarman

The Arizona Republic Oct. 13, 2005 12:00 AM

The Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix, was idle Wednesday after two of its three reactors were shut down because of safety concerns. A third unit at the nation's largest nuclear power plant was taken off-line Oct. 7 for refueling and repairs.

It's one of only a few times the plant has been completely off-line during its 20-year history. There is no indication of when it may be back in operation.

Palo Verde's three nuclear reactors can produce almost 4,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to light about 2 million homes.

Jim McDonald, a spokesman for plant operator Arizona Public Service Co. said that the utility has ample power to serve its customers and added that it is fortunate the problems were discovered now rather than during the summer, when power demand is at its peak.

The shutdown almost certainly will boost electricity prices as utilities that count on relatively inexpensive Palo Verde electricity have to purchase replacement power on the open market or run higher-cost natural-gas generators.

Indeed, the price of wholesale electricity at the Palo Verde trading hub on the Western power grid jumped 13 percent Wednesday, to $105.73 per megawatt hour. In Arizona, utilities can appeal to regulators to pass those costs along to ratepayers.

It's the latest in a string of outages at Palo Verde this year that have drawn regulatory concerns about the safety of the plant and the potential cost of the shutdowns to ratepayers.

APS shut down the plant's two operating reactors late Tuesday after it was unable to demonstrate to regulators that a key safety system would perform as designed. The problem, which involves an emergency system that cools the plant's nuclear reactors after an accident, also affects the third unit being refueled.

"It's not that the system wouldn't operate, it's that we couldn't prove that it would," McDonald said. Given the situation, conditions of APS's operating permit required the units be shut down.

"There was no question they were going down," he said.

McDonald was unable to say when the two units would be restarted. A restart would have to be cleared by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the safety issue would first have to be resolved.

McDonald said the company is exploring several options that could bring the units back on-line. The unit down for refueling will be out for 10 to 12 weeks, he said.

While the accident the system is designed to mitigate has a low probability of happening, NRC spokesman Victor Dricks said its malfunction carries the potential for a significant safety problem.

The NRC stepped up supervision of Palo Verde earlier this year because of another problem with the plant's emergency reactor cooling system. That resulted in a $50,000 fine.

While the agency has concerns about the operation of the plant, the NRC does not believe it is being operated unsafely.

May 24, 2005
Ken Alltucker, The Arizona Republic

Operators of Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix shut down one of three nuclear reactors to repair a coolant pump oil leak. Plant operator Arizona Public Service Co. shut the Unit 3 nuclear reactor Sunday night and expects the outage will last about two weeks as crews replace the pump's oil seals. The shutdown of Unit 3 means that all three reactors at the nation's largest nuclear power plant have closed sometime this year due to refueling or maintenance issues. Utility representatives described the event as a planned outage of the 1,300-megawatt unit that will not sap the region's ability to meet power demand even as record heat hits the Valley. "This is something we've been managing for a couple of months," APS spokesman Jim McDonald said Monday. "It's a planned outage in a sense; we know that this equipment needs to be fixed. It's just not worth going into summer with that issue out there."

The main purpose of the equipment is to pump water from the reactor to the steam generator to help produce power. It is unrelated to a $50,000 fine levied last month by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission based on safety flaws found at Palo Verde's emergency cooling system. That fine was issued after inspectors discovered air inside pipes used to send water to reactors in the event of an emergency situation where the primary cooling system malfunctioned. Federal inspectors' "yellow" finding relating to the emergency cooling system represented an event of "substantial safety significance." The emergency cooling problem cited by inspectors has since been corrected. Color-coded findings Findings designated "red" pose the most significant safety threats while "white" findings have low to moderate safety significance.

McDonald said the utility coordinated the Unit 3 shutdown as the 1,335-megawatt Unit 2 nuclear reactor returns to full power. That unit was closed for nearly seven weeks due to refueling, but it should be running at full capacity within a couple of days. Outages disclosed After reporting no unplanned outages in 2002, the utility disclosed there were six equipment-related outages at Palo Verde from August 2003 to late 2004. Palo Verde's latest outage comes as the Valley's other major power provider, Salt River Project, juggles repairs at three generating stations. Other stations affected

A boiler tube leak at SRP's Navajo generating station will sap about 750 megawatts. Also, maintenance issues at SRP's Coronado and Desert Basin generating units will cost the utility an additional 700-plus megawatts of power. SRP estimates that one megawatt is enough to supply power to about 225 homes during peak demand. "It's not perfect, but we're not uncomfortable," said Scott Harelson, spokesman for SRP. "If everything remains as is, we should have no problem meeting load." Peak demand The Valley's peak power demand usually hits from mid-July through August as area residents typically crank up air-conditioners to stave off humidity and high temperatures. Demand still low Even though temperatures reached record levels during the weekend, McDonald said the power demand is still well below what the utility is bracing for in a couple of months.

Last summer, the Valley faced a power crisis after a transformer fire at APS' Westwing substation restricted the amount of energy the utility could import from out-of-state power plants. Area businesses and households heeded a call to conserve power, preventing mandatory blackouts. Both APS and SRP say they there should be enough power this summer to avoid a similar crisis. Palo Verde shutdowns February 2005: Unit 1 closed to repair a faulty circuit breaker. April 2005: Unit 2 closed for refueling. May 2005: Unit 3 closed to replace oil seals on the reactor's coolant pumps

Max Jarman
The Arizona Republic
Aug. 21, 2004 12:00 AM

For the fourth time this year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is sending special investigative teams to the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix to take a closer look at recent events at the plant.

Federal regulators said one group will determine whether air recently found trapped in key safety lines posed a significant threat to the plant.

The other team will follow up on the investigation of a June 14 power surge in the West Valley that shut down the plant's three reactors. Regulators noted concerns about the way the nuclear plant had shut down and the age of some of the equipment at the Westwing electrical substation, where the surge should have been stopped.

Some events that have raised regulatory concerns at Palo Verde this year: 2004

JANUARY: Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials call in Palo Verde managers to discuss concerns raised over allegations of deteriorating relations between management and workers.

FEB. 3: Unit 1 is shut down when radioactive water is discovered dripping from a drain line.

FEB. 19: Unit 2 is shut down when radioactive water is found leaking from a tube in the unit's steam generator. The NRC launches an investigation.

FEB. 29: Unit 3 is shut down because of electrical problems. Later, boron is found on a heater sleeve, indicating a leak of radioactive material.

MAY: NRC team sent to Palo Verde to investigate a potential erosion of a "culture of safety" after allegations of management-employee disconnect.

JUNE 7: Unit 3 shut down after turbine control fails.

JUNE 14: Units 1, 2 and 3 are shut down when a power surge cuts off outside power to the plant. NRC sends a team to investigate.

JULY 29: Air is found in a line that provides water for emergency cooling for the plant's three reactor cores.

AUG. 20: NRC sends team to Palo Verde to evaluate July 29 waterline issue and follow up on investigation of June 14 outage.

The Missing Person      by Terry Molloy       Copyright 2000      All Rights Reserved

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